Calling Bhagat Singh a terrorist is an act of terror itself

Terrorism doesn’t just mean exploding bombs or going on a shooting spree. You can also cause unspeakable damage intellectually by brainwashing impressionable minds and turning them into civilizational zombies.

In fact, these acts of terrorism are much more deadly because you are not killing and maiming people, you are also killing and maiming their children, their grandchildren and if corrective measures are not taken, almost all of their future generations. You’re killing and maiming their perception of their history and culture, you’re killing and maiming the way they think of themselves. You’re constantly making them feel ashamed of themselves.

For many decades the so-called historians and intellectuals have been dismantling India’s cultural icons, historical figures and indigenous heroes and heroines in the name of objective analysis and scholarly impartiality. So they have no problem calling Guru Tegh Bahadur a rapine and a plunderer, Prithviraj Chauhan a mere local warlord too confused to take on the might of the massive and highly organised Mughal armies, and Bhagat Singh a “revolutionary terrorist”. Oh yes, Shivaji was a scheming opportunist quite scared of Aurangzeb.

If you think these inferences shouldn’t be taken as pejoratives, that they are either totally mistakenly used (I firmly believe that these are not “mistakes”) or they shouldn’t be taken too literally because historians have their own way of drawing conclusions and they don’t mean any harm, you seriously need to talk to people in your neighbourhood to get a glimpse of what sort of impact these historians are making.

It was many years ago, maybe I was in college. The wounds of 1984 still hurt, especially the wounds of people who spent most of the time abroad, like my dad, and didn’t get much chance to interact with fellow Indians on the Indian soil. During one of his visits he said “Do you know these Hindus call Bhagat Singh a terrorist?”

I remember we were having a big discussion about whether Bhindrawale was a terrorist and my dad was trying to explain that it’s no big deal with Bhindrawale being termed as a terrorist because “they” tend to label every major Sikh figure a terrorist.

“They even call Guru Gobind Singh a dacoit and Guru Tegh Bahadur a plunderer,” he further said with seething anger.

I don’t remember much but what I remember is he was very upset about all those things and so were the people who told him all those things.

In terms of history and even in terms of current affairs, I wouldn’t call my dad a learned man and I’m not saying it in a bad sense — he is just not a person who reads much. So the only way he could have come across those facts was by another person and knowing his social circle, again, I’m mentioning it just as a fact, I can safely assume, that the person who told all that to him must had also come across those facts from another person.

Back then, I assumed, due to the 1984 Sikh riots and the turmoil in Punjab before that, lots of such talk was going around among the Sikh community and hence, what he was saying about Bhagat Singh being called a terrorist or Guru Gobind Singh being called a dacoit shouldn’t be taken seriously. They were simply heresy, I assumed back then, and all was forgotten.

Then recently I had a WTF moment while reading India after Independence by Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee and her husband.

In the book, in multiple chapters, whenever they talk about Bhagat Singh they call him a “revolutionary terrorist”.

According to the book, Nehru was a “visionary”, a “political genius”, and a “diehard Democrat”. He was responsible for almost every awesome thing that happened during the freedom struggle and during his prime ministership. India had a dream run under his stewardship. The Congress party was full of “tall men of politics”, but when it comes to people like Bhagat Singh, they were “revolutionary terrorists”, who resorted to meaningless violent acts that were totally contrary to the peaceful freedom movement led by the magnificent Gandhi-Nehru duo.

Recently there has been lots of outrage about the term “terrorist” being attributed to one of the biggest cultural icons of the Indian freedom struggle. There have been heated TV debates. Accusations and counter accusations have been made. Opinion pieces have been written explaining what scholarly terms like “revolutionary terrorists” actually mean, why such terms should not be expunged and why “distinguished” historians shouldn’t be targeted for using expressions that were in-vogue during their times.

The most stupid argument that I have come across is that historians like Bipan Chandra and Mridula Mukherjee have used expressions like “terrorists” to describe freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh because the British used such expressions for these freedom fighters.

Back then, their apologists say, in the pre-Osama and pre-9/11 days, being called a terrorist wasn’t as obnoxious as it is these days. In simple words, if you used terror as a political movement whether it was fight for your freedom or make a political point, you were a terrorist and there was nothing to feel bad about it. The mistake is silly, claim the apologists for the team Bipan Chandra-Mridula Mukherjee, and by now should have been rectified, but even if it has not been rectified, the authors shouldn’t be hounded because by the end of the day, they didn’t have a bad intent.

Whom are these apologists fooling? What do they mean by “back in those days”? These historians obviously had a bad intent otherwise, being the sort of “learned” and “eminent” persons they are (their books are prescribed in colleges and universities, for God’s sake!), they wouldn’t have let such obnoxious terms, in the light of new developments, pass under their noses. Had they been living in caves or jungles that they didn’t know the term “terrorist” is a pejorative and can end up misleading the students? Very intentionally they used the word “terrorist” for Bhagat Singh and it was no mistake. They had every chance they could have gotten to remove offending expressions like “revolutionary terrorists” in their books.

I will give you a small example.

In the “Preface to the Revised Edition” of the 2008 edition of India after Independence, Bipan Chandra specifically mentions that there was a dire need to edit the previous edition of the book because overwhelming events had taken place. This is what they have written in the preface:

Indeed, many significant developments did take place since the book was written in 1999 and needed to be incorporated in the book. The economy in the new millennium was at the verge of a breakthrough registering unprecedented rates of growth. A paradigm change in India’s relationship with the outside world was being shaped not only by the major economic strides India was taking but also by the prolonged negotiations on a changed nuclear status for India among the nuclear powers. On the other hand Indian politics saw some unprecedented dips. The gravest threat to Indian democracy since independence was witnessed during the Gujarat killings following the Godhra tragedy in 2002. The state government, police and bureaucracy connived or remained silent spectators while thousands of Muslims were murdered or hounded and made homeless. But then other segments of India’s civil society and state institutions stood up and fought. The period also saw a brazen attempt to communalize our education system at the school textbook-level with the Central government’s active participation. This too was followed by nationwide protest. A change of government in 2004 put a stop to this most dangerous trend. On the whole, though the period was characterised by spectacular…

Before the new edition of the book — the 2008 edition — 9/11 had already happened, there had been a war going on against international terrorism and India had borne multiple terrorist attacks. So the authors of the book must have had a clear notion of what a “terrorist” is.

The authors fully understand the contemporary world and the new political, social and international conditions existing while editing the latest addition.

The book has a chapter called “Communalism and the Use of State Power” that “analyses” the Gujarat 2002 events. They also heave sigh of relief when the change of government in 2004 put a stop to the “dangerous trend” of the school textbooks being “communalized”. Please pardon me for using so many quotation marks but I couldn’t help it.

So according to the new state of affairs the book needed to be edited. But for them, this new state of affairs obviously didn’t change the fact that the British used to call freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh as terrorists and so these “eminent” historians had to use the term verbatim even in the age when being called a terrorist is the worst insult one can be exposed to. What does it mean?

It means that terms like “terrorist” were used for people like Bhagat Singh specifically for denigrating their persona and drilling into the minds of young students that people like him shouldn’t be held in awe and in fact, these people were terrorists.

It hardly matters that Bipan Chandra is known to have carried out extra, independent research on Bhagat Singh and is even “credited” with bringing his letter “Why I Am An Atheist” to the public limelight. Is the letter in any of the course books written by him? Is his research on Bhagat Singh a part of general curriculum in universities and colleges?

Since historians and intellectuals of the ilk of Bipan Chandra and Mridula Mukherjee are big fans of “interpretations” and “nuances” cannot it be easily interpreted and nuanced that despite being such informed historians and educators, they were using a term like “terrorist” to describe one of the greatest freedom fighters and by doing that they were causing an insult to them? Cannot it be interpreted and nuanced that they were using such words intentionally, especially considering what sort of highfalutin words and expressions they have used to describe their demigod Nehru. Couldn’t they even spare one graceful word for Bhagat Singh and thousands of freedom fighters like him who died unknown? Even one graceful word? Is that asking for too much?

Actually if you really want to see the context you should compare the way they write about Nehru and his family in particular and the Congress party in general in the course books. The Nehru family members could do no harm and even if at particular junctures of history they seem to be doing something wrong, they were either victims of intransigent political situations or they were errors of judgement that could be easily brushed aside.

In India after Independence, although they have a separate chapter on the Gujarat riots, they don’t have a separate chapter for the 1984 Sikh genocide carried out by the Congress party. If they were treating the history of the country “objectively” then they would have discussed all the events dispassionately, giving equal weightage to every topic. Forget about a dedicated chapter, they don’t even have a dedicated subsection on the 1984 Sikh genocide carried out by the Congress party.

Remember that these are historians whose books are being used by colleges and universities. In the above quote of the “Preface to the Revised Edition” they write, “Thousands of Muslims were killed.”

From where did they get “thousands of Muslims were killed”? From Arundhati Roy?

of the topic “2002 Gujarat Riots” says that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, according to official figures, died in the riots. If this figures are wrong, why hasn’t this entry been corrected and if these figures are not wrong, why “eminent” historians whose books are prescribed in college and university courses are using such a sweeping statement like “thousands of Muslims were killed”?

Are these semiliterate louts pretending to be seasoned scholars?

This is just a small example of how theses scholarly charlatans use their position and reach to corrupt the minds of young students for perpetuity. They use their books and papers to spread lies against political and ideological entities to paint a totally different picture of not just country’s history, but also its contemporary socio-political situation.

These are intellectual terrorists wreaking havoc with people’s minds. Sadly, there is no law to punish them, and anyway, this can trigger a very unhealthy and dangerous precedence so I wouldn’t even recommend having a law against them. But they should definitely be made to pay.

Dismantling the aura around them and exposing them for what they are would be a good beginning. Rewriting the history books is also a good step. All their books should either be removed from college, university and public libraries or these books must be accompanied with a statutory warning telling the students that historical facts are being misrepresented in these books.

If you want to know in what contempt these historians hold freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Lala Lajpat Rai, carefully read the sort of language they use to describe the Nehru family. Contrast always helps.

I don’t care much about being politically correct. Things are just right or wrong and yes, sometimes there are grey areas in this is why we write, don’t we?

I don’t care much about being politically correct. Things are just right or wrong and yes, sometimes there are grey areas in this is why we write, don’t we?